‘Terminator: Dark Fate’ Stands Out From Its Predecessors in Mostly Superficial Ways

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CREDIT: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures

Starring: Natalia Reyes, Mackenzie Davis, Linda Hamilton, Gabriel Luna, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Diego Boneta

Director: Tim Story

Running Time: 128 Minutes

Rating: R for Signature Time-Travel Nudity, Yelling Profanity at Killing Machines, and Throwing Punches and Explosions and Gunfire at Metal

Release Date: November 1, 2019

I’m going to be straight with you, folks: as far as Terminator sequels go, I think Genisys is kind of okay! At the very least, it’s fascinating, as it attempts to assemble a sort of synthesis out of a knotted mess of time travel and criss-crossing timelines. But I am perfectly fine, at least theoretically, with the fact that the next edition, Dark Fate, ignores the events of Genisys (as well as Salvation and T3), instead opting to be a direct sequel to the first two, generally-agreed-upon-classic Terminator flicks. When making a Terminator sequel in this day and age, you have the advantage that the premise of this series allows you to ignore as much of what’s come before as you see fit. But you also have the disadvantage that the premise of this series allows you to ignore as much of what’s come before as you see fit. The makers of Dark Fate seem to understand this paradox, but they don’t do much to mitigate it. So we end up with a film that is decently thrilling, but not terribly interesting.

Up until now, every Terminator film has focused on some variation of Sarah and/or John Connor and an Ah-nuld android. But the future run by Skynet has officially been prevented, although another, very similar artificial intelligence has risen/will rise in its place. So Dark Fate at least mixes up the formula by giving us a new messiah of humanity in the form of Natalia Reyes’ Dani and a new time-travelling future fighter in the form of Mackenzie Davis’ Grace. And of course we get a new Terminator prototype in the form of Gabriel Luna’s Rev-9, who can pull off the admittedly cool trick of temporarily separating his bio-synthetic husk from his robotic endoskeleton. It’s a nice idea to see how the looming apocalypse affects someone else for a change, but this is all ultimately a story we’ve seen played out before.

CREDIT: Skydance Productions and Paramount Pictures

Of course, the real draw here is the return of Linda Hamilton to the role that made her an icon nearly thirty years after she last played her. She hasn’t missed a beat, which is important because the world keeps demanding that she kills Terminators. She is ready to dig into the emotional meatiness, but the script is not doing her any favors. There are lots of instances of characters dropping variations of the f-bomb, which is no replacement for the Spanglish sublimity of “Hasta la vista, baby.” Weirdly enough, or perhaps totally unsurprisingly, the weightiest moments come courtesy of Schwarzenegger, who has never completely left the franchise, and yet somehow he is still able to spin new golden variations as a sort of legacy act.

The underlying problem with Dark Fate is that while it makes sure to take care of the action choreography, it never figures out what it really wants to be about. There is a feint towards some sort of metaphor about automation taking over human workers, but that doesn’t amount to much of anything. And there is a key sequence of traversing the border from Mexico to Texas, which is plenty meaningful on its own but is never really incorporated into anything relevant to the looming apocalypse. Maybe the real-life version of the rise of the machines was just a never-ending addiction to Terminator sequels all along?

Terminator: Dark Fate is Recommended If You Like: Action set pieces doing their best to paper over weak spots

Grade: 2.5 out of 5 Apocalypses

This Is a Movie Review: Terminator Genisys

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Arnie-Smile-Genisys

Terminator Genisys basically ignores the third and fourth movies in the series, but it should be noted that 3 and 4 do not really grapple with their predecessors, at least not very meaningfully. T3 backtracks on the message of T2, while Salvation merely fills in the blanks in a way that mostly stands on its own. Genisys, meanwhile, crisscrosses 1 and 2, while new machinations try to prevent or delay the victory or defeat of Skynet. It does not completely stand as its own thing, but there is so much thrown together (mostly gracefully), that it works as something. It manages to be fascinating, at least in an academic sense.

Sarah Connor and Kyle Reese’s interactions are colored by the knowledge of destiny, as they grapple with how to or how not to fulfill the roles that have already been set for them. It is a fairly effective treatise on the nature of stories in which the characters “know” what they are “supposed” to do. Emilia Clarke and Jai Courtney’s performances are not much more than serviceable, but maybe that is the point. Maybe in being locked into their roles, they cannot add too much extra color.

The most consistent draw of this series remains The Terminator himself. Arnold Schwarzenegger has been on a bit of a hot streak in finding relaxed, playful subtleties in his performances, and that continues here, as his awkward cyborg smiles are just exactly right. Also, J.K. Simmons shows up as a beat cop who gets caught up in everything, and he is completely superfluous but very much welcome.